What’s more satisfying than getting bundled up on the couch with some ice cream for a binge session of your favorite reality show? Nothing, that’s what. Thank our lord and savior Beyoncé that MTV changed the television landscape back in 1992 by introducing us to their groundbreaking Real World show, which basically marked the birth of reality shows.
Since then, the reality TV genre has totally blown up. From The Bachelor to The Amazing Race, TV producers have certainly left us wanting for nothing in that department, and these days, there’s a reality show for just about everything. Some of our eternal faves are The Real Housewives franchise and Vanderpump Rules, because obviously, but whether you like down-home rednecks or home remodeling, you can rest assured that you’ll find at least a few reality shows that tickle your fancy. That being said, not all reality TV is created equal. Some shows wouldn’t know realness if it came up and bit them in the face. Here are 16 of the fakest reality shows of all time.
Okay, hold onto your butts everyone. As it turns out, our favorite guilty pleasure, Catfish, rests on a bed of lies. The show, which sends Google Image Investigators Nev and Max to find out if ‘hopefuls’ are being catfished by people who refuse to Facetime them and demand that they buy them new phones every month because putting two and two together is hard. Word on the street is that this entire process actually happens in reverse, with the people doing the catfishing reaching out to producers initially and the producers, in turn, solving the case before it ever airs to ensure that there’s a satisfying result.
90 Day Fiancé
The basic premise of 90 Day Fiancé is that couples from different countries meet and the one who’s not from the United States is then brought to the U.S. on a temporary visa. The show then follows the couples on the road to figuring out whether or not after they’ll tie the knot before the 90-day visa expires to ensure that the other party is allowed to stay in the country. The show is replete with damaging stereotypes about immigrants and casual racism, and to make matters worse, it’s said that producers latch onto the most dramatic couples (like totally off-the-rails duo Danielle and Mohammed) and give them scripted arguments to deliver so that they can drive the drama home. Yikes.
The Bachelor/The Bachelorette
As far as popular reality shows go, it doesn’t get much more addicting than the never-ending drama of The Bachelor and The Bachelorette. They both share the same basic structure. One person searching for a partner stands at the helm while a handful of contestants compete for their affections. One contestant left behind is then chosen to be the next season’s leading man or lady. The shows are also, however, home to the reality TV industry’s worst-kept secret: painfully heavy editing. While all reality TV footage is edited to steer viewers a certain way, what the producers behind this franchise do is way more intense. They carefully parse dialogue to create storylines out of almost nothing without the consent of the contestants. While it may not be scripted per se, producers take care of that on the back end.
Amish Mafia tells the story of an unwieldy gang of Amish gents from Lancaster doing exactly what you’d expect any self-identifying mobsters to do. They’re seen in the community as tough guys with chips on their shoulders and a penchant for starting feuds with local law enforcement. It’s dramatic stuff. The only problem? Law enforcement officers in the area have come out and said that this so-called Amish Mafia doesn’t actually exist and that there is little to no tension between them and the local Amish community. Basically, the show’s entire premise is fabricated. So much for reality.
While the name Storage Wars may make you instantly want to take a nap because it sounds so boring, the show can actually get a little intense. People gather at their local storage yard and an auctioneer has them all bid on an abandoned storage locker. The catch is that no one knows what’s inside until bidding is complete. Most of the time, it’s total junk, but the excitement comes when the locker happens to hold a super valuable treasure. Unfortunately, however, those treasures are almost always planted by producers. In fact, the practice even got them into a bit of legal trouble based on the Communications Act of 1934, which states that TV game shows cannot be rigged.
The show Pawn Queens tells the story of two women who have a pre-established rapport selling knick knacks and treasures from their pawn shop. On a Reddit thread exposing shady practices on reality shows, one user commented that their friend was one of the two women. She was actually picked up through an audition process and was working as a dental hygienist at the time with absolutely no pawning experience. Seems legit!
Love Island is basically like Survivor except all the contestants are totally doing it. For that reason, you probably won’t be surprised by the fact that the so-called “contestants” are actually more like hired actors. While there was a $50,000 grand prize that viewers knew about from the beginning, contestants apparently made $75,000 for appearing on the show to essentially work as actors. Some intimate scenes were re-filmed over and over again until producers felt that they looked realistic and there’s very little chance that they did that with any sense of irony.
Alaskan Bush People
A favorite of sandal-clad dads nationwide, Alaskan Bush People tells the story of a family living a simple life off the land in the middle of, well, the Alaskan bush. Their industriousness is pretty impressive and their antics are next-level, but when the cameras stop rolling, these folks head into town and stay at nice hotels before returning to their perfectly normal modern lives. Locals say that they often mingle with them at bars and restaurants.
Long Island Medium
Listen, friends. I know you want to believe that everyone’s favorite bouffant-rocking Long Island girl with murder weapons for nails is telling the truth on Long Island Medium, but the fact of the matter is that like just about every other psychic out there, Theresa Caputo most likely uses cold reading techniques to glean information from those suffering from loss without them realizing it. The tear-jerking show looks so realistic because editing is her friend, but people who have been to her live shows have reported that the entire spectacle seems obvious, forced, and faked. We still love an extra-AF legend though!
House Hunters is a show that follows individuals or couples as they try to find the perfect new home for them and their families, but it’s all a bunch of nonsense. While most of the time, producers are the ones falsifying the hell out of everything, the House Hunters folks leave it up to the people they chose to be on the program, which explains why it’s so painfully awkward to watch at times. These are not actors. These are everyday people who really did just hunt for a new house, but in order to be on the show, you must have already purchased a home and be willing to participate in a house shopping charade. Because they’re just average Joes and Janes, the result is an uncomfortable reminder that we should probably leave the acting to professionals.
Ghost Adventures host Zak Bagans loves his job more than any human being has ever loved a job. He is king of doing THE MOST and we appreciate him for it. That said, as one might guess, his show isn’t exactly based in reality, even though it’s framed as such. So-called paranormal experts are often at odds with the many bros of Ghost Adventures because the methods they use aren’t actually viable (are any methods viable for finding ghosts?) and they essentially fabricate encounters. Also, when they do culturally and historically significant readings, producers are said to just research the local lore and direct the hosts to base their fake encounters on that. But honestly, who really believes what’s going on here? It’s all in good fun.
Let’s ignore for a moment that we ended up with the host of one of the fakest reality shows of all time as the president and just focus on something that looks less like an existential crisis. The Apprentice, hosted by Donald Trump, promised contestants access to high-profile corporate jobs if they won, but the only real prize of winning The Apprentice was saying that you won and then quickly becoming a spokesperson for the Trump brand. (Or, you know, a job in the White House years later à la Omarosa.)
Pimp My Ride
Rapper Xzibit + people’s old cars evidently added up to overnight success on MTV’s Pimp My Ride. The show focused on people who were down on their luck driving around in cars that definitely would not pass an emissions test or inspection. Xzibit showed up at their doors and told them he was about to pimp their rides, at which point he took their car to a shop to give it inexplicable “upgrades.” Because really, who doesn’t want a hamster-sized tennis court in their trunk or a hot tub in their truck bed? Answer: most people. Contestants often went on to say that because the upgrades were purely cosmetic, they were still barely able to drive their cars off the lot.
Britain’s Got Talent
While Britain’s Got Talent isn’t totally rigged, there was one issue back in 2015 when a human-dog duo won after thousands and thousands of people voted for them and their incredible stunts. As it turned out, though, the dog everyone fell in love with wasn’t always the one doing the biggest stunts. A tight-rope walk ended up helping the pooch and his human take home the big prize, but it was later revealed that the dog that walked the rope was a different one. People were enraged, especially because it costs about 50 pence to vote by phone in the U.K. Talk about a scandal!
America’s Got Talent
Evidently, America’s Got Talent isn’t all it’s cracked up to be either. It’s been revealed that in the audition process, producers plant people in the audience and tell them how to react to certain acts. There’s even a rumor that producers begged one act to try out and then had their planted audience members boo and heckle them just to create drama on the show. That behavior can affect an entire audience, which makes it a problem. Who knew all this was going on behind the scenes of our favorite reality shows? Trust no one, friends.
Perhaps the fakest of the bunch is MTV’s The Hills, which followed rich white people who inexplicably graduated high school with nary a brain cell in sight and went on to have successful careers in fashion and media because meritocracy is a myth! Show standouts Lauren Conrad, Spencer Pratt, and Heidi Montag always brought the drama on the reality show, but Pratt once revealed that the scene in which Montag has a pregnancy scare was actually re-shot upwards of 15 times. It was a common practice on the series. Producers also hired cast members based on their potential to bring drama-causing nonsense along with them. The last episode’s ending pretty much confirmed that this show was not legit.